Monday, August 23, 2010

Album Review: Isobel Campbell & Mark Lanegan - Hawk

Regular readers of this blog (yes, both of you) will know that I have a penchant for pretty much anything Mark Lanegan does. Of late he has become a serial collaborator, and this latest collaboration sees his third album with Isobel Campbell. I must admit that I am surprised that they have done 3 albums together. Not that I don’t enjoy their albums, but in the last 10 years Lanegan has tried his hand at whole range of collaborations, from the hard-rocking Queens of the Stone Age to the electronica-based Soulsavers, yet this relatively conventional coupling is the one he has returned to most. Campbell is the main driver of this project, writing most of the songs, but these albums wouldn’t have the same without Lanegan’s voice.

This is an extremely accessible album, as they try out lots of different styles. We Die and See Beauty Reign is a fairly slight, spooky duet but it’s followed by You Won’t Let Me Down Again. This is a confident, striding track built on a James Iha riff with a great melody and a really good vocal from Lanegan.

Townes Van Zandt casts a long shadow over this album, as 2 of his songs are covered here, Snake Song and No Place To Fall. The first of these is a fairly faithful interpretation. Van Zandt’s music has been cited as an influence on Lanegan’s solo albums, and this comparison may go some way towards explaining why he chose to sit out the second of these tracks, allowing Willy Mason to take the vocals. Some might find his vocals jarring but he fits in fine here in my opinion, adding a sort of curveball into the mix. His voice is not too far removed from Van Zandt’s, and there is a nice fiddle part here also.

In between these tracks is Come Undone, which is like a mixture of Come On Over (Turn Me On) from previous album Sunday at Devil Dirt, and James Brown’s It’s A Man’s Man’s World. So an unashamed big ballad then, featuring strings and a kitchen-sink style arrangement, and wonderfully tender vocals from Campbell and Lanegan.

The moods shift and twist throughout this album, as Get Behind Me is a kind of bluesy stomp, as is the title track. Time of the Season, however is a gorgeous duet, more akin to Honey Child What Can I Do (off Ballad of the Broken Seas) with sweeping strings and harmonies.

Without the counterfoil of Lanegan, Isobel Campbell does not fare so well, Sunrise and To Hell and Back Again, which she handles on her own are a little precious, straying into Hope Sandoval territory. Perhaps Sunrise is her way of writing a Lanegan song (a lá Sunrise off 1994's Whiskey for the Holy Ghost), though she doesn't quite pull it off.

Cool Water sees the return of Willy Mason, and it’s a wonderfully understated, relaxed ballad, sounding like it could have been recorded any time in the last 50 years, with charming car horn honks. Eyes of Green is like a traditional Irish jig (!) while Lately is an optimistic Dylanesque closer, sung by Mark Lanegan, helped along by a gospel choir, overcooking the song somewhat.

The album is a little hit and miss but in general it works pretty well, with the odd surprise here and there. Although with this collaboration spanning 3 albums it has probably run its course, with little else left to said between these two. Time for a solo album Mark?!